I think I’ve finally found my calling. I believe the job that would suit me best is Wife of a Sports Agent. Why such an obnoxious and anti-feminist pursuit, you ask? Because marrying a sports agent would likely be the only way I could be fully entrenched in two fields I find interesting: marketing and sports. And also because I think I’d get free tickets.
Really, I’m not going to struggle to link this post to my quest for a paycheck by writing for a living. The real reason I got such a flare in my panties to write about athletes’ endorsements is because I am watching a shit-ton of sports. This is pretty much the sweetest time of the year for me. There’s usually pretty significant rainfall, girls (and boys) are wearing skimpier clothing on the New York streets because of the rising temperatures, and both the MLB and the NBA are at points in their seasons that demand I eschew all social engagements after 8PM. I’m a born-and-bred baseball fan. (Guess the team? We’ve beaten yours.) And, admittedly, baseball is linked to my heart because of my family, I associate watching games with both my long-deceased grandmother and my dad. But the NBA has me by the clitoris and the adrenal gland, and both of those are far more important to me than my heart.
Sports fan or not, there’s one thing you know about televised athletic events, and that’s that they come with commercials. Lots of commercials. Cars speeding down winding, rain-slicked streets. Greasy burgers squished between foam-soft buns. Insurance for your home against flooding, insurance for your car, insurance for your erection. Advertising rules television. But the reason why I won’t pony-up for a DVR (other than the cost) is because I actually enjoy the commercials…some of them. Namely the ones with recognizable celebrities of court and field.
No one can really measure the impact that celebrity endorsement deals have on a brand in dollars. There are many factors, between sales of sneakers to stock prices, that are difficult to gauge. What keeps companies forking over ridiculous sums of money is the "halo effect," the idea that when an average person sees a celebrity using a product, they’ll be more inclined to buy it because they’ll want to imitate a role model, pop icon, fallen golf hero. A bevy of companies hang their reputations on the halo, and celebrities and sports stars build brands out of their names because of it. Nike alone features more than seventy-five athletes in their advertising, Gatorade showcases more than twenty-four. And while I’m no more likely to swig Gatorade just ’cause I saw Jeter do it (I think Gatorade tastes like cow urine and it’s full of sugar,) I really and truly get off on watching the way that agencies have scripted, shot, and serialized the intermingling of athlete and advertisement. That, and if one features a topless LeBron James, I’ll happily be watching it repeatedly.
So, in honor of ESPN, TNT, FOX, and all of the other networks that get paid to promote gods and goddesses of the sports world, I present some of my favorite examples of advertisements featuring athletes, and why I think they work or fail. To the geniuses at W+K, TBWA, Element79, and all of the other agencies that create the spots that give me goosebumps and make me want to work up a sweat, I salute you. But I still won’t drink any Gatorade.
Go Suns! (Please don’t get swept, please don’t get swept…)
Steve Nash threw 30K of his own money at this video, produced it, and hired Lola Schnabel to direct it. Sure, it’s inspiring and makes you want to train hard to watch sports on your couch, but the real gem is seeing Nash dribble a basketball while skateboarding around New York. Note to Nash: if you do that again in my city, I will track you down and hug you, leaving a slug-like trail behind.
Outtakes from the Charles Barkley and Dwayne Wade T-Mobile campaign
In general, I find T-Mobile commercials irksome. This could be because my favorite phone was my Sidekick ID (yes, I still like it more than I like my iPhone) but T-Mob’s service sincerely fucked everything up, so now I use a way too fancy device whose keypad sucks so hard it creates its own vortex. And Charles Barkley can’t really sell me much, other than possibly a chin. But for some reason seeing the outtakes makes me appreciate the Charles/D Wade commercials a little bit more.
I don’t really know how I feel about Derek Jeter as an ad guy. He’s trying to sell me a Ford Edge, he’s trying to sell me razors, he’s trying to sell me this idea that he’s not being fellated by A-Rod. But this Gatorade commercial works for me. Featuring Harvey Keitel, it’s just clever enough to make me think that chemical-tasting sports drinks aren’t just something that inactive people drink to feel closer to being fit.
Seattle Mariner Alex Rodriguez covets some wood
Wow, A-Rod. You’ve sure come a long way from this ancient Eagle Hardware commercial. You sure look cute in that Mariners uniform. I bet Derek Jeter would say it brings out your eyes. (For the record, I am a Yankee fan and I am making these jokes. That’s how obvious their love affair is.)
Tony Hawk looks awkward in anything with buttons. Alex Rodriguez still needs to take a piece of plywood to the butt. Michael Phelps has the douchiest face ever and should only be seen like this. And yet this commercial could be the only thing I actually like seeing Kobe Bryant do, other than losing. It might not be as sexy as the Guitar Hero ad that aired during the Superbowl, but I prefer it, as it doesn’t give my male friends erections in bars.
Adidas: It’s On Me For We
Holy cow, Tim Duncan can actually smile. But Duncan, whose interests include Renaissance Faires and Dungeons & Dragons, cannot sell me shoes. This commercial isn’t very effective, unless the shoes split me into five different Ainsleys that could write this post, walk Snack, whip up a vegan casserole, and make-out all at once.
Lil’ Wayne might be slightly played out, but this ad for Nike is still pretty solid. Anything featuring children, donuts, and a rap star’s sneakers getting dirty I’ll happily watch. It would be better if Bron were topless, but whatever. In case you were unaware, King James had a 90 million dollar contract with Nike in 2003, prior to even playing his first game in the NBA.
Here’s an example of bad advertising. If you’re watching the lead up to NBA Finals, you’ve probably seen it. McDonald’s doesn’t stop to think:
Ineffective advertising at its core. LeBron and Dwight Howard wouldn’t know who Larry Bird is? That’s as likely as either of those guys having the bodies they have and eating that shit on the regular.
Time Force gets in Rafa’s face
Here’s a totally awesome Spanish-language commercial for Time Force watches, featuring ridiculously-attractive tennis star Rafael Nadal and the Lakers’ Pau Gasol. In it the two guys have to pass the same test as William Tell (or Guillermo Tel, as I believe his name is in Spanish) in order to score the timepieces. Granted, Pau getting hit in the face would be sad, but considering that he looks like a character from The Land Before Time, I don’t think it would have done too much damage.
vermeiden Sie Drogen
Here’s a German anti-drug PSA with Dallas Mavericks’ power forward Dirk Nowitzki. I have no idea what’s going on, but I will continue to say no to drugs, smoking, and sweating teenagers.
Nike: "Fate" – Leave Nothing
Nike once again brings out the big guns by hiring David Fincher to direct the story of Pittsburgh Steelers’ Troy Polamalu and the Jets’ LaDainian Tomlinson growing up to the point in their careers where they careen into one another on an NFL field. Featuring the same heavy-handed heartstring pulling of all the other top-dollar Nike ads, I’d like to pretend that I didn’t get a little wistful when I watched it the first time, but I’d be lying. Perhaps it’s just Troy Polamalu’s hair. Speaking of, if you haven’t seen his fifteen-second spot for Head & Shoulders, you really should. Brilliant.
Polamalu, who is known for being the most badass Christian since lion-braving Daniel, enjoys growing flowers, building furniture, and playing the piano. Pretty awesome that such a low-key guy agreed to star in the remake of one of the most well-known Coke commercials to ever feature an athlete.
Here’s a link to the original Mean Joe Green Coke commercial, followed by the Polamalu remake for Coke Zero.
Someone reminded me of this clip the other day, and it’s possibly the best example of how an endorsement deal can lead to a professional athlete doing something extremely removed from their sport while still bolstering their brand name. Nike has Kobe Bryant selling Ankle Insurance while on a horse. An NBA player getting in touch with his equestrian side might not surprise some of you who saw Charles Barkley ride a pony for Rite Guard in 1992.
If that doesn’t make you believe that athletes and advertising aren’t a good match, I don’t know what will. Now get out there and buy some shoes.